Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
Winterson’s debut novel has a brilliant title, poise and the unfettered wonder of writing that seeks its own future as it unfurls. The tumbling narrative is compulsive, juggling active questions like lit torches in the reader’s mind. Is the reason for existence simply to provide opportunities for betrayal and test how one survives betrayal? Is the whole of life a series of immersions on a ducking stool whose lever is held by the people we have loved to test whether we drown or continue to love them?
In the portrayal of an extraordinary childhood there develops an extraordinary suite of survival skills. Winterson delivers a cascade of both gritty realism and magical realism with an indictment of pentecostal zealots and the fine gradations of social snobbery wherever one house abuts another.
This writing is a tonic for any reader who feels their childhood or parents odd, it is also entertainment and escape, and a nudge towards compassion and a reminder that grace is mysterious and unfathomable, like family.
The final quarter of the narrative becomes a chequerboard of fantasy, flickering images of metaphor and the hand of time pass elusively over the action. Although there are many elements of fairytale there are some that this narrative clearly has not.
Yet the ice cream van continues to sing and life persists in unrolling, full of life, joy, sorrow and past.
Gabrielle Barnby, April 14th